Dirty Marketing: The North Face - Green Ink Marketing
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Dirty Marketing: The North Face

The North Face vs Wikipedia

“Collaboration” for free… unless you count their reputation.

When we did a series of articles last year showcasing brands that had honest reputations we could have easily included “The North Face”. They have long been known as a brand that stood by its values. Beyond making gear for enjoying “our playground” (as they call earth), they have also created the innovative Clothes the Loop program tailored to helping the environment and humanity. Through this program you can return old products to allow them to be reused or recycled rather than filling up landfills. The returned products have been used to help in humanitarian aid causes after natural disasters and also to help out small entrepreneurial companies. 

“The theme was clearly to show them as being trailblazers of some sort… Instead the reaction they received was justifiably outrage and disgust.”

This is all really positive, and unfortunately not what this post will be about. The outdoor gear company was in the news recently for what can only be labeled as dishonest marketing. In a campaign with Brazilian ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made, North Face edited or replaced the photos of many famous outdoor adventure spots on wikipedia pages to feature their products. The goal being to have their product at the top of google image searches… actually let’s let them explain it: 

Watch The North Face video here (Provided by The Drum)

To be clear, the idea of taking advantage of another company’s product to promote your own is by itself reprehensible. Especially when said company is in the business of trying to provide accurate information to users for free. The North Face made the choice to risk wikipedia’s credibility for its own gain. I don’t even think that’s the worst part, though. The video makes the whole situation so much more condemnable. The theme was clearly to show them as being trailblazers of some sort, as they gleefully brag about the lengths they went to fool the public and exploit wikipedia. Instead the reaction they received was justifiably outrage and disgust. 

The problem with this whole “Oh we didn’t realize…” approach is that the video shows they knew damn well what they were doing.”

After AdAge released an article showing the video and detailing the campaign Wikipedia came out with an angry response to The North Face’s actions. In a twitter post, they called for an apology and chastised them for risking the public’s trust in Wikipedia

The North Face and Leo Burnett Tailor Made both released statements (I struggle to call them apologies) saying that they had ended the campaign and would work harder in the future to understand how to work with Wikipedia. The problem with this whole “Oh we didn’t realize…” approach is that the video shows they knew damn well what they were doing. In what was already a publicity nightmare they squandered their chance to show some humility.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it.” In an era where consumers rate companies based on their actions and honesty it will be interesting to see if The North Face has squandered their reputation with this one dishonest campaign. 

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